Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘self-growth’

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

December 2007

Don’t screw up. Alan’s words echoed in Judge Karen Morgan’s head twelve years later on Christmas Eve as she stared at Central Park from the window of her suite at the Plaza. Don’t screw up. Don’t try to find Stan. Carrie Moon is dead, and you can’t bring her back. Being the Honorable Judge Karen M. Morgan a/ka/Mrs. Howard Morgan is safe. Being Carrie Moon is certain death. Be safe. Don’t die. Don’t screw up.

“What if I don’t want to be safe?” she asked the empty room because on Christmas Eve, Howard was ensconced with his junior associate at the firm’s New York office, obsessively preparing for his trial to begin again on January 2.

“What if I want to screw up?” She demanded of the winter-bare trees across the street. And then, the most horrific question of all, “What if I want to die? What if I’ve wanted to die every day for twelve years?”

* * *

November 1994

But she hadn’t wanted to die that Wednesday. She could barely keep her mind on the Burnett file that morning. All she wanted was for night to come and to be back in Stan’s arms.

Around noon, she finished correcting the documents, left them with her secretary, and headed home to her condo to shower and change. She felt the first trace of unease when she looked at her answering machine and realized Stan hadn’t called. She had thought he would to ask her to come to the club that night. Was he angry because she had to leave so abruptly that morning?

She grabbed her black Nordstrom’s cocktail dress and a change of clothes for the next day as she headed out the door to return to work. She wasn’t going to show up on Thursday in Wednesday’s clothes. She would make sure she was at the club no later than ten. Surely as nervous as the Burnett accountants were about the sale of the securities to the public, they wouldn’t send her yet another set of numbers that night.

Carrie’s apprehension grew all afternoon as her secretary put through call after call. None from Stan. Most were from the Burnett accountants, questioning the numbers they had already provided.

But they didn’t send her any new ones, so she was able to take her clothes and slip away happily at seven to go home once again and dress for the club. She was glad she didn’t have to change in the Warrick, Thompson ladies’ room after all because she wanted to look her best for Stan.

The set was just beginning when she hurried to her usual table. Harry brought her wine without even taking her order. Carrie caught her breath at the sight of Stan on stage in his white dinner jacket. She waited with joyful anticipation for the first moment when his eyes would seek hers across the distance that separated them.

But that moment never came. Like the previous evening, he stood on stage so that he never directly faced her. When he made eye contact, it was with a stunning, sapphire-eyed brunette, cleavage spilling out of sliver lame at the Table of Five. Carrie had never seen her before.

She sipped her wine carefully, feeling her heart sink with every sip. As she listened to Stan play, she slowly began to understand that what she had thought was the beginning of all her dreams coming true had been only a one-night stand.

When the band broke at eleven thirty, Stan went straight to the Table of Five with his scotch. He aggressively sought the place next to the brunette, and they all laughed and joked together until the break was over.

Carrie was so stunned by his rejection that she couldn’t summon the strength to leave even though she wanted to. She felt Harry Rich’s sympathetic eyes on her; but she knew if she met his gaze, she would burst into tears.

When the break ended, around eleven twenty, Stan proceeded to the stage with the brunette in tow. Harry, who was at the piano, and Kristin, who was also on stage ready to sing, gave him surprised looks.

Stan kept the broad grin on his face that he had worn since the minute he sat down by the brunette. He motioned for Kristin to give him the microphone, and she obeyed.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began, “I asked a special singer and friend, Lara Beaumont to come down tonight to help me with this song.”

Carrie was now transfixed by her hurt and humiliation. She watched in agony as Stan made his careful mouthpiece placement, breathed deeply, and sent the first haunting notes of “I Can’t Get Started” into the audience. Instead of Kristin doing the vocals, Lara sang the lyrics, gazing at Stan with wide blue eyes.

It was one of the most horrible moments of her life. Carrie placed her half-finished second glass of wine on the table and tried to stand up. She wasn’t in the least drunk. She was completely overcome with hurt and despair.

Stan had known exactly what he was doing when he asked Lara Beaumont to the club. He knew Carrie would come back, eagerly anticipating another night with him. And he was sending her the message to go away.

Forever, she thought miserably, as she finally managed to get to her feet. She noticed that Harry’s worried eyes were riveted on her from the stage, and she remembered his words, “Stay around. Show him he can’t drive you away.”

I can’t do that, she thought, as she struggled to breathe. Disappointment sat on her chest like a fifty pound weight.

Even though the tune hadn’t ended, she turned and walked toward the exit, trying to keep an even pace so it wouldn’t look as if she were fleeing. With her back to the stage, she could no longer control her tears. By the time, she reached the outer lobby, she was sobbing long deep sobs that shook her whole body.

She almost ran to her car. She sat in the driver’s seat with the window down, listening to the rest of the tune. Tears rolled down her cheeks. Huge applause followed when it ended.

She did not know how long she would have sat there if she had not seen Harry Rich crossing the parking lot to find her.

“Carrie? Are you ok?” Then he saw her tears. He opened her door and held out his hand to her. “Come, tell me about it.”

She got out and leaned against the car, trying to regain enough composure to talk.

“Want to go walk by the bay for a few minutes?”

She shook her head. “No, here is fine.”

“Something’s happened between you and Stan.”

She nodded and told him about the night before. His dark eyes were full of sympathy as the story unfolded. “I did what you said, Harry. I fought for him. I went after him. But what can I do about tonight? I can’t fight this.”

Harry sighed. “Stan’s never been one to know what’s good for him. Lara Beaumont isn’t.”

“Are they – involved?” Karen could barely make herself utter the question.

“Off and on, after Deanna. She was a friend of hers. But Stan and Lara never last. They wind up fighting.”

Jealousy ripped through her as she thought about the two women Stan had let into his life.

“So what is tonight about, then?”

“Stan’s usual behavior. He got close to you last night, and now he has to push you away.”

Karen leaned against the car and closed her eyes for a moment, trying to steady herself against the waves of love and jealousy tearing through her. When she opened them, she looked straight into Harry’s deep concern.

What am I supposed to do now?”

He shook his head. “Give Stan some time to process all this. When he’s thought about it, he’ll wish he hadn’t done it.”

“But he looked so happy on stage. Triumphant, even.”

“That’s Stan. Proving to himself he can drive you away. Go home now and get some sleep. I don’t think you’ve had much for the last twenty-four hours.”

He opened the door, and she got in. She smiled and waved as she pulled out of the lot. Harry was a good man, and he had deserved her help.

San Diego’s streets were deserted at eleven forty-five. Karen felt as if she were the only person left on earth. By the time she reached the first red light, she realized she had no idea where she wanted to go.

If she went home, she’d cry all night. But she wanted to avoid feeling the pain because if she let herself feel it, she would be overwhelmed. Work, she thought. If I go back, I’ll be so occupied I can’t feel anything.

* * *

Alan Warrick walked into her office at nine the next morning.

“Karen, are you all right? You haven’t been home!”

She looked up at him calmly from the stack of documents she was proofing. She didn’t care that she was still wearing the black dress or that her hair was loose around her shoulders, or that her face was still marred by tear tracks. “I’m fine, Alan. I’m just making up for night before last. No big deal.”

She could tell he was far more concerned about this disconcerting display of raw emotion than about her personal well-being. A tear-stained face and the previous night’s cocktail dress were completely unacceptable in Alan’s world.

She had to erase all traces of emotion. She leaned over, picked up the phone intercom, and buzzed her secretary. “Alice, I’m heading home now to shower and change. I’m leaving the Burnett documents on my desk with some corrections for you to make. I shouldn’t be gone long.”

She gave Alan a confident smile as she gathered her brief case and headed for the door. She didn’t feel confident about anything, but she knew acting that way would dispel Alan’s concern she intended to make a habit of showing up at work with her heart on full display.

* * *

Her condo was dark and had the musty smell of a closed house. She had left last night, excited about the prospect of another evening with Stan. Now she felt she was crawling back in defeat.

She opened the drapes covering the sliding glass doors to the deck that overlooked the Pacific and pressed her forehead to the glass. She watched the steady rise and fall of the waves in the morning sun. Their rhythm reminded her of Stan’s love making and the rise and fall of their joined bodies, releasing that strange, almost frightening wild energy that had permeated every pore of her being.

She couldn’t bear the thought of Lara Beaumont in her place in Stan’s bed. The tears she had held back through the wee hours so that she could read the Burnett accounting files now formed and overflowed. The pain of disappointment and lost love tore through her chest, and settled around her heart.

Impulsively she turned from the window and hurried to her bedroom. She opened the closet door and stared at the dull rows of navy, gray and black business suits. After a few minutes, she reached up and pulled the long leather case from the top shelf.

She went to the bed, sat down, and opened it. Her fingers caressed the flute’s cold silver. She quickly twisted the joints together, held the instrument to her lips and let her breath warm the metal for a few moments before she blew the first note, low deep and pure. The ice around her heart began to thaw.

She ran through the major and minor scales, playing them faster and faster as if speed would purge the pain in her soul. Her fingers were surprisingly nimble, despite not having played for a long time. But her lips and tongue lasted only through half the scales she wanted to play. Defeated, she held the flute tightly to her chest and wondered how she had lost her own soul. 

She closed her eyes and imagined the backstage smell of every concert hall she had ever played in. She breathed in the blend of old fabric, cork grease, and valve oil. She remembered what it was like to be surrounded by dozens of violin and viola bows, moving restlessly up and down over the ever-changing twang of tuning strings while, unperturbed, clarinets, oboes and flutes ran dizzy ladders of major and minor warm-up scales. Low brass blatted pedal tones. A French horn brayed a hunting call into the chaotic cacophony. She smiled. And then there were the trumpets, the pure egos of the music world. She imagined their high, clear notes cutting through every other sound.

She had been alive then, always on the edge of nerves, yet enthralled by rush of adrenalin that gave her the performer’s high. Being near Stan brought it all back, and let her relive those clear, pure moments when she had been doing what she had been born to do. She wanted to cling to him to avoid losing forever that lost part of herself.

images (9)

The entire ebook of Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks is available for purchase at Amazon. com, http://www.amazon.com/Ride-Your-Heart-Til-Breaks-ebook/dp/B00RDJQB8Q. Deborah is also the author of the award winning novel, Dance For A Dead Princess, http://www.amazon.com/Dance-For-Dead-Princess-ebook/dp/B00C4HP9I0

And check out Deborah’s latest book review at Deborah’s Book Reviews, http://deborahsbookreviews.com

Read Full Post »

LOVE SONG

CHAPTER TWELVE

November 1994

Through her tears, she watched him vanish up the path toward the parking lot.  Go after him. Fight for him, her heart said. Show him you won’t desert him. Show him it’s safe to love you.

He had already left when she reached her car. She drove the few blocks to his loft at Fourth and G. By some miracle, there was an empty meter in front. She got out and hurried up the steps to ring the bell.

Answer. Please, answer, she prayed. Her breath came in short, harsh sobs as she stood waiting for a reply from upstairs.

None came.

Karen rang the bell, more insistently this time. She counted ten seconds and rang the bell again.

Then suddenly the iron security door swung open, and Stan was there. Without a word, he pulled her inside and into his arms.

* * *

December 2007

As the American Airlines jet began to taxi toward take off in the late December twilight, two days before Christmas, Judge Karen Morgan sat back in her first class seat and closed her eyes. One week since she had seen Stan at the Christmas party. Seven miserable days of coming home to the blank answering machine. No call. No message. So why did she expect one? She had told him the truth: Carrie Moon was dead. Why then did she think he would come after her and insist she wasn’t? Because she so desperately wanted him to? Because she had once fought for his love in an effort to rescue him from a life of numbness and emptiness, and now she wanted him to do the same for her? But the odds were against it. She ordered a scotch straight up and closed her eyes.

The jet sped east through the darkness, but Karen was back in the lift in Stan’s building as it creaked upward toward his loft. Her nostrils were full of the cool salty breeze, sweeping over her hot arms and face, damp with perspiration and desire. And she could smell the familiar dark, masculine scent of Stan, the mixture of sweat and sex that surrounded him after hours of performing.

Sometimes, Karen reflected, as she listened to the big jet engines labor, life brings you to a split second when you suddenly understand everything is about to change forever. In the twinkling of an eye, as you stand poised on the edge of the inevitable, you pause to burn into your memory what life is like at that moment – the moment before change engulfs you. That sliver of time before the future arrives to transform your life forever is as tiny as an atom, yet as wide and deep as a black hole in space. You stand poised for less than a breath upon the rim of this vast knowledge that all the events of your life have happened for only one purpose: to bring you to this moment of irrevocable change.

* * *

November 1994

Stan said nothing as he held her tightly against him as the elevator lumbered upward. When it stopped, he pushed aside the iron bars to allow them to exit.

He led her down the hall to his loft. As they stepped inside, he pulled her into his arms and brought his mouth down on hers in a crushing kiss.

* * *

Karen Morgan shivered at the memory of that night and downed a huge gulp of scotch. Where was Stan at that moment? It was Friday night, so he was probably playing another gig. The old stab of jealousy bit through her heart as she remembered him flirting with the blonde singers last week. Did he ever remember how they had made love over and over again that first night, each time more intensely than the last?

No, Karen answered herself. She was certain Stan didn’t remember. He had more than likely made love to so many women in the last twelve years that the details of his first night with Carrie Moon had long ago disappeared completely from his psyche.

But then, why had he called? If women were nothing more for him than interchangeable Lego pieces, why had he picked up the phone after twelve years? Curiosity, most likely. Certainly not to apologize. Stan would never apologize for what he had done to them both.

* * *

November 1994

On that first night, Carrie finally dozed just as the first tentative light filtered through the long loft windows. She tried to fight the impulse to sleep, knowing she had to be at her desk by seven a.m. to make up for not going back to the office at midnight. But the combination of exhaustion, satiety, and the joy of being surrounded by Stan and his warmth overcame her.

She woke to bright sunshine and Stan’s kiss.

“Wake up, sleepy head.” He pulled her close and made love to her yet again. But afterward, as she lay cradling Stan in her arms, she felt a rising tide of panic. What time was it? Would Alan have missed her?

Unlike last night when she had remained as close to Stan as possible after they had finished making love, she slid away from him and sat up.

“What’s wrong? Did I hurt you?”

The hands of the clock on the beside table were irrevocably placed at ten a.m. Carrie caught her breath. She had never arrived that late for work in nine years and two law firms.

He watched her eyes travel to the clock. “Late for work? Then I guess you don’t have time for one of my famous breakfasts?”
She shook her head and began to get dressed.

* * *

At ten thirty, Karen walked into her office, uncomfortably aware she was wearing yesterday’s clothes, had not showered, and smelled like Stan and sex. Alan sat behind her desk, going over the documents from the overnight secretarial pool. The knot in the pit of her stomach tightened.

He looked up and surveyed her from head to toe. Karen wanted the floor to open and swallow her.

“I see you didn’t make it home last night.”

“I – ” For the first time in her association with Alan Warrick, she didn’t know what to say.

“We were concerned when you weren’t at work by eight.” Every word was a nail hammered into her professional coffin. “We called your apartment and got no answer. I decided I’d better start going over these documents to keep the deal on time.”

A flash of anger surged through Karen. “My being late this morning isn’t going to delay the IPO. We still have two weeks before the sales date.”

“And Burnett keeps changing its numbers on its assets. I hope you are paying attention to the changes.”

Her anger deepened. She wanted to take Alan by the throat and scream that she was entitled to a life away from Warrick, Thompson and that sleeping with the man she loved didn’t mean her brains had become mush. Instead, she summoned her cool, professional tone.

“I’m quite aware of the changes, Alan. That’s why these documents were in overnight secretarial. I appreciate your pinch-hitting for me, but I’m here now and ready to look these over.”

Even though Alan was one of the name partners, that tone from Karen always made him back down. It reminded him she possessed the true securities expertise. He was merely a litigator who knew enough to get him through whatever trial happened to be the case du jour in his life. Even if she showed up late in last night’s clothes, she knew the securities code inside and out. She would be hard to replace. He didn’t want her to know that, of course, but he did.
Beaten by her commanding tone, Alan yielded her chair and headed for the door. He turned back, however, before he left.

She kept her eyes on the documents, hoping he’d take the hint and go. But his gaze remained on her until she looked up.

“I gather last night wasn’t about scouting properties for Waterfront Development?”

“Last night was not about anything to do with you, Alan. Or the firm.”

He frowned. Obviously he wanted the whole story, and obviously he wasn’t entitled to a word of it. Beaten again, he sent a parting shot across her bow as he turned to leave. “Remember what’s at stake this year, Karen. Don’t screw up.”

The entire ebook of Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks is available for purchase at Amazon. com, http://www.amazon.com/Ride-Your-Heart-Til-Breaks-ebook/dp/B00RDJQB8Q. Deborah is also the author of the award winning novel, Dance For A Dead Princess, http://www.amazon.com/Dance-For-Dead-Princess-ebook/dp/B00C4HP9I0

seaport-village-dusk.1170.430.s

Read Full Post »

The self-growth community, which likes to clutter my inbox with fantastic offers for $10,000 worth of free life changing bonuses if only I will divulge my e-mail, vociferously insists we must all LET GO of the Past. I sometimes wonder if the induction ceremony for an authentic, card carrying self-growth guru is to have his or her memory wiped like a malfunctioning hard drive.

Personally, I would miss my Past. Not all of it, you understand. But even the terrible, terrorizing moments taught me things that, having sweated blood and endured raw fear to learn, I would not want to forget. And aren’t we doomed to repeat the Past until we finally learn what It is trying to teach us?

The thing is, what would artists make their art out of if they didn’t have their Pasts? Sylvia Plath, without her miserable, doomed love-affair with Ted Hughes, would never have become a Great Poet. Ditto for W.B. Yeats who made a highly successful poetic career out of mourning his loss of the ever elusive Maude Gonne. And then there is the mysterious woman of Shakespeare’s sonnets. No lost love, no great sonnets. Thank goodness for the rest of us Plath, Yeats, and Shakespeare lived before the onslaught of self-growth emails insisting you can’t be Anybody until you LET Go of the Past.

And in my case, wiping my personal hard drive would be a rather long affair, since I have memories back to a very, very early age. Now, I am not one of those people who can cite chapter and verse every day of every week of my life. (I think that much recall would be boring.) But let’s just say I have some vivid and accurate recollections of certain major events before age three. And I’d miss them like I’d miss an arm or a leg if they vanished.

On the other hand, Too Much Past is the equivalent of those hoarding reality TV shows that I never watch. You know the ones, where some poor soul stills owns every McDonald’s wrapper and styrofoam Big Mac container that ever came into his or her life? The literary equivalent is poor Miss Havisham in Great Expectations.

I began to meditate upon the proper balance for The Past in my life this weekend when I finally rebelled against another Saturday and Sunday spent writing unbrief briefs and invited the sky to fall if it wanted to because I was LEAVING MY COMPUTER for the weekend. Something about rebelling against the lawyer’s code which says “real men work weekends” (note, I know I’m not a man and maybe I’m not real), always brings out the Tidy Up, Throw It Out impulse in me.

After tackling my guest room, which needed considerable tidying and spiffing, my eyes lit upon my garage floor, covered in boxes of files in pending, but not currently active cases, which were supposed to go to offsite storage weeks ago. My MiniCooper had been complaining that His garage was too full of things besides Himself. And he was right. So after bribing my Stronger-Than-Me son to move the boxes, I suddenly spied a shelf filled with old calenders dating back ten years.

When I retired from law practice and became full-time Mommy in 1986, I used to order those calenders from the Smithsonian and National Geographic that came as little coil bound books, week on one side, breathtaking photo on the other. I scribbled things like pediatrician appointments, play dates, and my few-and-far-between babysitter relief afternoons in them. But mostly I loved the ever changing artwork.

But then, the divorce settled like ash from Vesuvius over our world. My beautiful little calendars became part of my family law attorney’s files – alibis to prove what I’d been up to for the last eight years. And I had to once again put on the great grey mantle of law practice. In place of my lithe little photographic calendars, I had to order those big clunky green-striped DayTimers, six inches thick, which arrived each year with their own grey coffin of a box to store them in. Forever, apparently.

Then on Saturday afternoon I looked at those boxes as they sat on my garage shelf, neatly labeled like Old Father Time with the year of his reign on the spine, and I asked myself when was the last time I’d opened any of them. Answer: on December 31 of the year they had passed into oblivion. In fact, all the briefs’ due dates they had chronicled were long past. The cases were closed out, and I could barely remember the clients’ names. Here was my chance, I realized, to throw out a cumbersome Past that really was THE PAST. Here was a hard drive that had long needed wiping. Joyfully I seized each and every one and gleefully threw them away.

Green-Lined Day Timer

Green-Lined Day Timer

They come with their own coffins

They come with their own coffins

Smthsonian Engagement Calendar

Smthsonian Engagement Calendar

Smithsonian Calendar

Smithsonian Calendar

Read Full Post »

A few weeks ago, I came across Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project” in Anthropologie. One of my favorite get-away-from-the-computer afternoons involves a wander through Anthro, fingering the nubby jackets, caressing the soft sweaters, and sighing over the silk blouses. And as I wander, I inevitably become endlessly enchanted by the grown-up picture books piled next to the scented candles, the adorable JellyCat stuffed animals, and the rainbow dishes in all shapes and sizes. Like most Anthro merch, I refuse to pay full price for it. Instead I text myself the name of the latest enchanting tome and rush home to buy it on Amazon for half-price.

So a few days after I encountered “The Happiness Project” my copy arrived in the regulation Amazon.com box. I suppose part of my curiosity stemmed from the title. Some posts back, I explained my Smile Project; so, I wanted to see what a Happiness Project was all about.

Enter chapter one where Ms. Rubin is sitting on a cross-town Manhattan bus, realizing she is in her thirties, is a Yale-trained lawyer turned New York Times bestselling author, happily married with two children, and SHE’S NOT HAPPY. So she decides to (1) find out what happiness is and (2) become happy. There are many things I liked about this book, but one of its chief charms is Ms. Rubin’s determination to make small changes in her daily life to capture the elusive bird of happiness. She doesn’t want to throw everything over, run away, and join a monastery or a circus. (Kind of tough for a mother of a seven year old and a one year old.)

So she undertakes a mountain of research to see what “experts” and “researchers” have to say about happiness and then sets herself certain areas to focus on each month. For example, her overall theme for January was “Boost Energy.” Her specific actions were “Go to sleep earlier,” “Exercise better,” “Toss, restore, organize,” “Tackle a nagging task,” and “Act more energetic.”

Another thing I like about this book, is Gretchen Rubin’s honesty. She realizes the only person she can change is herself, and she is scrupulously honest about the behaviors she would like to give up and the ones she would like to cultivate. Her book has inspired a wave of Happiness Projects, which she is quick to point out are personal to everyone who undertakes one.

Gretchen Rubin’s definition of happiness turned out to be “To be happy, I need to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right in an atmosphere of growth.” I agree with her about the “atmosphere of growth,” but my own definition of happiness includes “knowing from moment to moment” what I want. That is harder than it sounds, because so much of my life has been about accomplishing tasks that have to be done whether I wanted to do them or not. Self-employment and single motherhood tend to wipe out individual preferences.

But “The Happiness Project” inspired me to set yet another goal: figure out what I want on a daily basis. So now when I get up in the morning with the laundry list of “To do’s” tap dancing across my brain like the Rockettes on stage at Radio City Music Hall, I ask myself which one or ones will make me happy if I accomplish them today. If none of them rings my happiness bell, I ask, “Are there any orphan ‘I wants’ pining for my time?” My project is not as complicated as Ms. Rubin’s. I don’t like charts and gold stars and quantifying results. I just like the good feeling that comes with accomplishing at least one or more things in a day that my real self (not my lawyer self) wants to come true.

I am glad I passed “The Happiness Project” at Anthro that day. I agree with Gretchen Rubin that small, daily changes can bring real happiness.

The Happiness Project

The Happiness Project

Read Full Post »

Faint outlines of Australia and New Zealand remained on the downstairs wall after I wrote the painter his check and sighed with relief as he closed the front door. I called my son in for a second opinion, and he swore he couldn’t see them – at least from where he was standing. I tried to convince myself I could only make them out because I knew they had been there, sort of like the amputee who can still feel the severed limb. But I knew I’d backed the wrong horse and hired a less than competent painter. I supposed he thought I wouldn’t notice that of the three cabinet doors on the upstairs vanity, he painted only two. Didn’t he realize the chipped paint on the third was a dead giveaway?

Misjudgments are interesting. I have, at times, deemed someone incompetent who turned out to be quite an expert. Those are the good mistakes because I would rather think well of someone whenever possible. But, then, there are the days like this one when I’ve had to admit I’ve made the wrong choice. I could send this painter back a hundred times to eliminate the spots, but I would only become increasingly frustrated because if he’s known how to get rid of them in the first place, they wouldn’t still be there. Moral of story: better to cut my losses, tell myself no one else will notice Australia and New Zealand, and remember not to look up very often until I decide to hire a new and better painter. Of course, this is Time Number Three to paint that ceiling, so Time Number Four is entirely likely. Something in my karma attracts water damage to that spot in my house. Sigh.

But for now, I am reveling in having my stuff back in place. I am, without doubt, a “stuff” person. I love little nicknacks and the mini tableaux I can create with them on shelves and in unexpected corners of the house. A visually interesting environment is far more important to me than a Feng Shuied one.

I used to wonder if this were yet another character flaw that I might be duty bound to stamp out. But then I discovered http://www.theselby.com. Todd Selby goes about photographing creative people and creative spaces. And if you check his website, you will see artists are “stuff” people who love to create visual groupings with small objects. According to The Selby, I am not only a “stuff” person, I an an artist! Oh, joy. An excuse to avoid the Spartan environment of Feng Shui!

So I reveled tonight in putting back the fairy village that inhabits the top of my livingroom book shelves. I brought all the magic dragons out of hiding and made them lords of their respective kingdoms once more. I rehung the baskets my grandfather began to weave when he was in his 80’s and made throughout his 90’s (all autographed and signed). I snuggled the Big Bashful Bunny, the Medium Bashful Bunny, and the small Bashful Bunny back into their corner of the sofa. (They were inspired by a sofa in Anthropologie full of a similar bunny family at Easter a couple of year back.) Finally, I brought the mini-Teddies happily back to their house.

To celebrate, I poured myself a big glass of wine and sat down on the sofa to appreciate my world. Either an artist or a big grownup child lives here. Fine by me. And I reveled in the knowledge that I don’t have to be dressed and on my mark at nine o’clock in the morning to let anyone into the house to deal with Australia and New Zealand. I’ve gotten my house and my routine back, and I’m in un-Feng Shuied Stuff Heaven once more. Ordeal by Leaking Sink and Painter is finally over.

Leprechaun in the Fairy Village

Leprechaun in the Fairy Village

More Fairy Village

More Fairy Village

Happy Sheep

Happy Sheep

The Teddies are Home

The Teddies are Home

Magic Dragons Happy to Be  Back

Magic Dragons Happy to Be Back

Read Full Post »

Jimmy Carter left the Southern Baptist Conference after more than sixty years. He had been a deacon and a Sunday School teacher, and he is a profoundly and sincerely religious man. But his reason for leaving the Southern Baptists: the church’s increasing rigidity over the equality of women. Relying on certain passages of scripture, the Southern Baptists insist upon a wife’s subjugation to her husband. And they no longer allow women in the ministry.

Southern Baptists are the United States’ largest Protestant denomination, with 15.9 million members. I doubt that people who have not lived in the South understand what a powerful presence they are in Southern society and culture. My own grandfather was a rigid Southern Baptist who believed in eternal damnation for setting foot in any other church. As a child, I was bundled off to Sunday School and kindergarten at the Southern Baptist church that literally sat on our doorstep. (Eventually they would buy the house I grew up in and turn it into a parking lot, an act of destruction that has always left me profoundly sad.)

I was lucky that my early contact with the mighty Southern Baptist conference had nothing to do with doctrine and everything to do with my parents not wanting to go to church themselves. They shuffled me across the street, Sunday after Sunday, and then went home to put their feet up, read the paper, and drink coffee until it was time to pick me up. The perfect example of “Do as I say, not as I do.”

Eventually, though, being Southern parents, mine were forced to decide about their children’s Religious Affiliation. Southerners have to have some sort of Religious Affiliation to use on Easter and Christmas. And to get married and buried.

Since I had not been baptized as an infant – a practice my Southern Baptist father would never have agreed to and my Methodist mother had no opinion about – I necessarily would have to be baptized as a pre-teen or teen. But the point was, I was a daughter of the South and so I had to be baptized somehow, to avoid going to hell, of course. (Hell at that point was thought to be populated by Northerners, at least unreconstructed Southerners thought so. I didn’t give it much thought since I never planned to wind up there. And it did seem to me that the Civil War had been over for quite some time.)

My parents eventually lit upon a sect of Presbyterians who conducted services as if they were Episcopalians minus kneeling, the sign of the cross, and robes on the minister. For some reason, these Presbys were taken with the beauty of the Anglican liturgy (me, too, by the way) and they adopted it as their own. My father quit being a Southern Baptist and my mother quit being a Methodist, and I got baptized and turned into a Presbyterian by having a red carnation dipped into a bowl of water and squashed on top of my head. Whew! Eternal Damnation avoided! (I fully believe God has a sense of humor because He gave me one.)

By and by, to the absolute horror of my parents, I became an Episcopalian. This required yet another baptism for technical Episcopalian reasons. In their world, water on top of the head doesn’t save you. It has to cross your forehead. So to make absolutely sure I was good and baptized for all time, the priest poured water from a silver shell over my forehead. Killed the hairdo, but now Nothing stood between me, Saint Peter, and those Pearly Gates.

At first, I wanted to be an Episcopalian so that I could walk into any Anglican communion anywhere and hear the beautiful words of the liturgy. I loved that feeling of community when the priest intoned that gorgeous subjunctive phase, “The Lord be with you.” And we answered, “And also with you.” If I went to a Presbyterian church, other than the one I grew up in, I would not hear the liturgy. Then, by and by, my first child turned out to be a daughter. And I wanted her to grow up in a church where women could be priests if they wanted to be. I couldn’t see the point of a religion that told women from the get-go, you’re not good enough.

I have admired Mr. Carter always. He is a man of integrity in a world where integrity is in short supply. And I know what a hard decision he had to make. A Southern Baptist heritage is like being bound by tentacles.

For me, I chose well. You can be anything, anyone, anybody and be an Episcopalian. We have women priests, men priests, gay priests, lesbian priests, and yes, married priests, hetero and gay. Oh, and Bishops, too, come in all varieties. We are the ones the Catholics come to when divorce makes them ineligible to be Catholics anymore. We don’t have to stand on street corners and preach (Southern Baptists did this when I was growing up) and we don’t condemn anyone else’s religion. We are pretty sure God doesn’t either. And we are absolutely sure that women are equal in this world and the next. Back in the day, the Baptist Sunday School taught me to sing this song, which doesn’t say anything about having to be a male child to gain the All Access Pass to Heaven.

Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Black and yellow, red and white
They’re all precious in His sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

Love Comes in All Shapes and Colors

Love Comes in All Shapes and Colors

Read Full Post »

Two years ago, I started “The Smile Project” because I became uncomfortable with “The Zombie Zone.” I realized that when I passed a person I did not know – in a parking lot, in a grocery store, at the gym, or while waiting in line to use the Ladies’ Room (because ladies, unlike gents, ALWAYS have to wait in line) – the two of us entered a Dead Zone where we were close enough to greet each other or at least acknowledge each other. But, of course, we didn’t do that because we were strangers. No, we passed with blank, dead looks on our faces. In other words, we became Zombies passing in the night. (Or in the day as the case might be.)

I didn’t like the Zombie Zone. I hated that split second when the approaching stranger was close enough to require turning my head to avoid eye contact. If I timed it wrong, and our eyes met, we became two strangers awkwardly wondering what to say to each other. If I timed it right and got my eyes out of there in time, we became two strangers awkwardly avoiding each other. None of this felt good to me.

I considered what to do. Throwing out a “Hi” seemed like a bad idea. The trouble with speaking was I’d be overheard, and I’d look and feel like a Real Idiot if I didn’t get a return greeting. And the odds were pretty high in California that random strangers were not going to greet me back.

So I decided to found “The Smile Project.” The rules were I had to smile at every stranger, young or old, male or female, who came within the Dead Zone. I’d wait until that moment when eye contact should be avoided, make contact, and smile. And then I would wait to see what happened. It was a no risk proposition because if my smile didn’t Undead the approaching Zombie stranger, no one but me would know.

I have enjoyed watching the reactions to “The Smile Project.” There are, of course, the Zombies who remain Undead and ignore me. (“Really, why is that strange woman smiling at me? Do you think she wants something? She’s kind of cute, but I don’t know her. Better get out of here fast where no one is smiling at me.”)

But most of the time, the reaction to my smile is a return smile. There is usually a startled moment in the beginning while my target tries to figure out why this strange woman is smiling at him or her, followed by a (1) a tentative return smile or (2) a big grin. Once in a while, my target will smile and say Hi, or Nice Day or even wave. A smile is the greatest icebreaker in the world.

The Smile Project is also very useful when Waiting in Line. Californians do not Wait in Line well. They whine, complain, and look for ways to cut. They do not simply settle in and accept the inevitable truth: there are other people on the planet and They are Ahead In Line. So here’s where The Smile Project comes in handy. I scope out my fellow Line Mates and smile at the one (or even two) who don’t break eye contact the minute they see me. I smile and say, “Nice earrings,” or “I love your boots,” or “Yeah, we love pepperoni pizza at our house, too.” Usually from my minimal effort, a conversation is born that makes me, at least, forget about having to wait. Other people love to tell their stories. And since I am a storyteller, I have two great passions: telling stories and listening to them. So passing the time listening to someone’s story is well worth the price of a smile.

The Smile Project is also like garlic to vampires when it comes to warding off angry stares. The grocery stores here have aisles wide enough for one and a half carts. That means if you stop your cart to select an item, you are automatically blocking traffic. And every turn from one aisle to the next is a blind turn because of the stuff they pile at the end of the aisles. Pulling your cart out in front of another person or asking someone to let you pass by can net you an angry glare because that person has just been forced to recognize There Are Other People In the World; and right now, in particular, Those Other People are in Their Own Personal grocery store. However, throwing out a random smile usually gets me a smile in return and often a pleasant verbal exchange about the need for smaller carts or wider aisles. You can see a glare melt under the shine from a smile. You really can.

The Smile Project is also a godsend in Costco where I am absolutely the Only Human Pushing a Shopping Cart and Watching Where I am Going. Haven’t you noticed that everyone in Costco is pushing his or her cart with his or her head sideways (think The Exorcist) looking for free food? Just smile when they run into you.

I invite you to try The Smile Project for yourself. It is totally no cost and very low risk. The worst that can happen is you will encounter a Zombie who likes being Undead. But not always. And something really magical happens when the Dead Zone vanishes because your smile has made a stranger’s eyes go from blank to warm. I didn’t expect much when I started The Smile Project, but it has been more than worth the effort.

Founder of the Smile Project

Founder of The Smile Project

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: